Duane Burleson/Associated Press
Detroit has one of the more underrated linebacking corps in the NFL. Returning starters DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are both coming off strong seasons.
Levy broke out in 2013, picking off six passes and emerging as one of the best coverage linebackers in the entire league. It's unlikely he finishes near the top in interceptions once again, but his solid all-around play will continue.
Tulloch was instrumental in Detroit's midseason clampdown on opposing rushing attacks. He's instinctive and tough. The veteran did fade late in the year, notable particularly in his range in coverage. Still, Tulloch is a real asset in the middle of the defense.
Rookie Kyle Van Noy figures to see the bulk of the action as the other outside 'backer. Like Levy, he's incredibly versatile, able to range in any direction and consistently make the smart play. What sets him apart is his pass-rushing proclivity; Van Noy will blitz a lot and figures to move all over the formation to create matchup issues for opposing offenses.
Tahir Whitehead is a special teams ace, enough of one that his spot is safe even though he's barely played any defensive snaps in his two years in Detroit. His role on the defense could expand, as his pass-rushing ability is a better fit with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's more aggressive style.
Ashlee Palmer was the third starter in name only last year, as the Lions' base defense was a 4-2-5 alignment. He's in a real fight to keep his roster spot this year. Because he has contributed on special teams and flashes strong run defense every so often, he squeaks onto the Lions once again.
If anyone can unseat Palmer for the final spot, it's likely Julian Stanford. Undersized at 6'1", 230 pounds but lightning quick, the Wagner product has worked both inside and outside. Undrafted rookie Justin Jackson and underwhelming Travis Lewis are also in the fray. 2014 seventh-rounder Brandon Hepburn appears bound for the practice squad once again.
Remember, Darryl Tapp can also play outside linebacker. That means the Lions have little reason to keep more than five, and if the team opts to keep three quarterbacks, it's not out of the question that Detroit keeps just four here.
Final spots: DeAndre Levy, Kyle Van Noy, Stephen Tulloch, Tahir Whitehead and Ashlee Palmer (five)